Written by Penelope Farthing
In following with this being the season for New Year’s resolutions, this marks my final post about anything to do with obesity and black women as the focus.
To recap, a post I wrote got the ladies hot and bothered (read: pissed the f$%k off), and I wanted to talk about it. In this post, I’m not necessarily talking about obesity itself, just the reaction to when it is brought up in black women’s spaces. I mentioned the topic of weight as one of the third-rail topics of black womanhood, and the comment sections on Facebook revealed that this is indeed the case. With that in mind, this will be my last post on obesity for a long while, more likely indefinitely. Not because it’s not an important topic, because it is. It’s because wading through the comment section was evidence of two things – because of my passion for the subject and my writing style, my tone will continue to be a problem, and quite a few women don’t want to hear the message and deflect from the topic at hand.
As I read through the comments, I got called out of touch, nasty, “on some mean girls’ shit”, and my personal favorite, “cuntish”! As someone who swears (I’m working on it), I don’t use the word “cunt” at all, so I truly felt how angry I made some people feel. I like the dialogue though, and you don’t do this kind of thing if you don’t have thick skin, so the name calling doesn’t bother me. In the words of Jinkx Monsoon, “water off a duck’s back”. Spoon is my name, stirring the pot is my game.
With that said, if I offended you, I sincerely apologize. However, you may want to stop reading here, as I’m probably going to offend you again in this post. Trigger warnings and disclaimers were requested (more on that later), so here it is.
Now for the main event. I may as well go out with a bang since obesity in black women is henceforth declared a no-go zone.
I admit I came out guns a-blazing for the post that started it all. In my defense, that’s my typical writing style, and when I talk about other topics, like the failures of black men, or other behaviors to our detriment, like issuing slavery-style beatings to our children, it’s not a problem then. If my tone was the cause of the outrage, then I have a few follow-up questions. Why is my tone okay in other topics? I have issued some keyboard draggings to all sorts of people and events, such as struggle dates, dysfunctional attitudes, and third-rate performers the black community just can’t quite seem to remove support. If I approached the subject with a little more “light and love”, would that have been more palatable? The message would have been the same, just without the edge. Somehow though, I don’t think the tone matters, because people were still angry with articles written four years ago, with a tone significantly less sharp than mine.
If my tone was where I missed the mark, I can’t help but feel a twinge of hypocrisy here. The entire hip-hop industry says a lot worse than I ever have, in a tone much harsher, and earn worldwide acclaim and millions of dollars for it. If my little post was so bad, one would imagine the collective would have mobilized to reclaim our image from being bitches and thots and hoes and freaks and skeezers and hair-hatted hooligans with stinky vaginas that look like roast beef and the like. But I digress.
In this month of resolutions and manifesting and vision boards, I have taken it down a notch on a few of my last posts, and my usual acerbic style has been traded for a more uplifting tip. When my tone deviates from the usual, the posts get little to no comments on our social platforms, and even less on the post itself. So forgive me if I don’t quite understand what the people want.
It is a fact that black women are more obese than other races of women. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, “African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S. About four out of five African American women are overweight or obese”. To put that in context, the number of out of wedlock births in the community (77%+) pretty much matches our obesity rates (80%). Could the visceral reaction to my words result from shame? Shame is a very powerful emotion, so I get it. Shame can cause people to make excuses when excuses need not be made, and make exceptions the rule (a post which I will discuss at a later date). Even the very term “fat-shaming” has shame in the title. Fat-shaming is an insult levied at women like me who point out the problems with being obese. However, is it a reach to think that women who fall into the category of overweight or obese experience some internal fat-shaming too, embarrassed or angry or otherwise upset about their bodies, and therefore view any advice or criticism as a personal attack?
As mentioned above, black people have an uncanny ability to make the exception the rule. I saw this recently with my post about the Good Times remake, where a few women were quick to say that their cousin’s mama’s sister’s friend and her husband were both dark skinned, but their baby came out looking like Rashida Jones…as if that’s the most likely result, when it’s not.
Black women are easily triggered in general, which is why we are frequently made a target, on all sides. Because it’s easy, and a reaction is almost guaranteed. It’s human, so, I get that too. Perhaps the reaction was due to being in denial about why they get so triggered about weight conversations in the first place. Denial about the above-mentioned shame they might be feeling. It could be denial about why they are overweight in the first place, possibly due to early life traumas leading to using food as comfort, or simple laziness. Tell the truth and shame the devil.
This comment amused me the most out of everything. I included one as you saw above, but come on. Black men can say literally anything, and in the grand scheme of things, the reaction will be pretty mild. Classic example: any local rap and hip-hop station. There are no trigger warnings before a chorus of “bitch-molly lean drugs Percocet sizzurp bitch” emanates out those speakers. If the collective of women is not holding the males of the community to any kind of standard, how come I must now censor myself about a legitimate problem that faces us? This coddling is not demanded of people saying far worse than I have, with a far wider reach than this little blog post. But being that I don’t want to be nasty for nastiness sake, in the unlikely event that I do decide to write about this topic in the future, a disclaimer will be posted at the start of the blog. Just make sure Power 105.1 have one too.
Primarily, this is a platform about black women finding love across racial lines. If you are a black woman on this platform, I think it is a fair assumption that you support interracial dating in some form or another. So, you (collective) want the white and nonblack woman’s sons, the resources they built (intended for his own tribe of women), and to rid yourself of the dysfunction that is present with alarming frequency in the black community. Sounds fine to me. I imagine that you wish to poach the best men of another tribe for yourself. A mediocre man is still mediocre, no matter his race.
And while it is certainly possible to do so in any way shape or form, clinging to behaviors that make it harder (in this case, being obese) adds another layer of difficulty. In other cultures, rail thin is not necessarily the ideal, but mind you, they typically do not ascribe to the “thicker than a Snicker” body types as much as in the black community. Leveling up and securing the bag and the position, especially when competing with other races of women for their men, is already difficult. Other races of women who were taught the game from an early age and have an insider’s view on the men of their community, have a leg up on us. Then, coupled with the routine attacks on our image, from WITHIN and out our community, it could be an uphill battle to get access to that wealthy bag to secure. Not impossible, but, uphill. Addressing the obesity within the community is one way to make competing just a little bit easier.
But men are not the be all end all. As the Facebook memes say, “dick is abundant and of low value”, or another one I saw, “men vastly overestimate their current market value”. So, let’s take the men out of this. Black women already face all sorts of discrimination in the workplace for just existing. Obesity and the beliefs and perceptions around it can cause people who make hiring decisions to skip over you, costing you opportunities, or money, or another step on the corporate ladder, or a goal you want for yourself, all of which are far more important than any Tom, Daquavious, or Harpreet.
Not to mention, there is an insane amount of stress that black women face on a day to day basis. Conditions like anxiety are known to cause things like chest pain and palpitations. And though I’m no medical professional, I’d still diagnosis a lot of us with some underlying anxiety and depression issues, which would be worsened by weight. All black women regardless of her size are deserving of love, are valuable, and should always be treated with respect. But it is not an evil, terrible thing to acknowledge that being of a certain size will impact many aspects of her life, too.
Could this visceral reaction stem from jealousy? Jealousy that as more and more black women internalize the goal of attaining a healthier weight and the benefits that brings, it would leave (collective) them by themselves? This jealousy isn’t just manifested from some angry comments under a post. You might hear it (or have even said it yourself, tell the truth) when someone hits their weight goal and say “you’re too skinny, you looked better before”. Or it may manifest as pushing them to eat the cakes and pies and deep-fried whatever-the-hell because it’s “the holidays” or “the weekend” or because “kale is for white girls”. Or it may be using scare tactics to stop a black woman from seeking gastric bypass as an option, because of medical racism or other problems, only to hide that they don’t want you to level up by any means necessary, even if it means taking a scalpel to the stomach.
In addition to the suggestion for a trigger warning, other women said that we should post motivational stories, recipe and exercise ideas, and somewhat of an airy-fairy approach. This request was made as recently as a couple days ago on my penultimate post about this topic.
But the thing is…we do those too! The Beyond Black and White Facebook page is home to a wide variety of posts, with topics largely focusing on black women’s issues. We DO have the recipes and the motivational stories and the light and love posts. But there’s no engagement!
Here are some examples:
The requested motivational post! 50 likes, 2 comments, no shares.
Exercise of the week: 20 likes, no comments or shares.
But then the light and love stops, and I, the pot stirrer supreme, take the stage, and we have this:
55 reacts, over 100 comments, and 6 shares. The shares are private so I can’t see what engagement it might have gotten elsewhere.
38 reacts, over 100 comments, 3 shares. One of the posts that started it all!
Which lead to this:
Which is where I sourced a few comments and inspired this whole blog.
Is this not a bit disingenuous? I understand that you may disagree with me. But please, take the emotions out of it for a moment, and look at this through an objective lens. People ask for something that we already provide, and the engagement with the content, via comments or even a quick little “Like” react is far lower than the controversial stances we sometimes present. If people flock to certain kinds of posts, would it not follow that we would continue to make posts like those, since that’s where people go? An audience of a few hundred is better than an audience of 20-something.
Do people want a lighter touch, or do they want to be angry, or something in between? Because the aggressive come-to-Jesus style posts sure do get a lot more traction than “you can do it sis!”.
Obesity in black women is a multilayered conversation that would take actual years to unpack. Due to my own challenges as a writer, especially around my tone, and writing in a defensive manner, opposite of the ideals we espouse, I am choosing the coward’s way out, and calling it quits. I accept that I am not as far along in my own journey to adequately facilitate a discussion without hurting feelings. I am not suitable to write about this topic, so I’ll sit this out and leave it in our other writers’ capable hands if they so choose. Once again, if I offended you in this post or posts prior, I apologize. I’ll focus my energies on other topics that interest me and is less prone to backlash. If you have topics in mind, leave them in the comments on our socials or below.
I hope this piece was not offensive to you, and again, I apologize if it was. It’s the beginning of a new decade, and we all have something to say, but also something to learn, me definitely included.
What are your thoughts on my longest post to date? Please do share in the comments below.
Disclaimer: This blog was written by me, Penelope, and my ideas are not necessarily reflective of Christelyn Karazin or other writers on this platform.